Friday, October 05, 2012

when (and how) to use spell check

Have you ever dashed off a document—a blog post, a request for proposal, an email—and neglected to review your words due to lack of time? Have you relied instead on the spell check feature to make sure your work is“error-free?”

I think we’ve all done that at some point. I mean, we’re busy, right?

But…oops. Using spell check to proofread a document--at least, without also incorporating a human eye--isn’t really a good idea.

Spell check can certainly be a useful tool, but using it as a deciding factor as to whether words are ready for the world to read—well, that’s a big mistake.

The thing is, spell check only reads words; it doesn’t consider context. Sure, we can blame occasional verbal misuse on the many idiosyncrasies of the English language. (After all, how many tongues have three or more spellings for words with identical pronunciations—e.g., two, to, too?) We are, however, still expected to use our language correctly when expressing ourselves via writing. And seemingly small mistakes can stand out in big ways—especially when they show up in professional writing.

Here are a few examples of mistakes spell check will overlook:

Homophones are pronounced identically but spelled differently, and the words have different meanings. For example:

The sun shone brightly through the window.
Have you shown your students how to effectively study for the test?

Other examples of homophones include:

Except, accept
Meet, meat
Night, knight
Precede, proceed
Sum, some
Rain, reign, rein
There, their, they’re

Typos and reversed words or letters
We all fumble at the keyboard every now and then. But be careful not leave portions of words out of your final draft, or accidentally reverse letters so that an entirely new—and unintended—word appears.

My son’s basketball team made it to the champion last year.
I just want some peace and quite.

Since champion is a real word and spell check knows that, it doesn’t flag the term—which should read championship—as incorrect. Clearly the sentence doesn't quite work with champion. And as for wanting peace and quite, well, that sentence doesn’t make much sense to us humans, but to spell check it’s perfectly all right. I'm guessing, though, that many of us would absolutely love some peace and quiet at times!

Extra words and neglected letters
This type error usually occurs after changes have been made to the first draft of a document:

I went to the store to buy purchase milk.

As long as both words are spelled correctly and the sentence doesn’t break any grammatical rules, spell check will not flag word.

John drank six glass of lemonade at the picnic.  

Whoops! Forgot to add an s to make this noun plural...the writer knows this isn't right, but spell check doesn't!

Outsmarting spell check is simple: read over your text carefully first (or better yet, have someone else review it), make corrections, read it again, and then go ahead and run spell check.

Image above from


M Colleen Wietmarschen said...

Love your post. I do Wednesday Words of the Day on my Facebook Fan Page and have discussed a lot of these and the importance of proofing and not just using spell check.

Nice information!

Vikki Baptiste said...

Darnit ... now I have to go proof my blog post again!

Great advice, as always, Cassie!

jazzmom said...

Colleen...thank you. I'll have to check out your FB page, too!

Vikki, lol. I know, it never ends, does it...that proofreading thing? :)